Editor’s note: You guys know by now I’m no blackjack expert. That’s why I’m grateful that this post is written by Philip Reed, author and blackjack player. He gives is a great rundown of what to look for when trying to find the right table
By Philip Reed, author of Wild Cards: A Year Counting Cards with a Professional Blackjack Player, a Priest and a $30,000 bankroll.
To play good blackjack you need to make good decisions. And the first one you make — which game to play — can save you a ton of cash.
I spent a year counting cards with a professional blackjack player and he drilled into me the importance of getting every edge you can even before the cards hit the felt. And, on my own, I discovered there are more factors to consider than just the statistical ones in Wizard of Odds. You could say there are numbers decisions and people decisions.
For a year I kept a record of every session I played and I began to see a pattern that showed me how important it was to pick the right game. And, when I impulsively veered from the best choices, and sat at the wrong table, I usually took a big loss.
Start with the Basics
There are some really obvious games to choose or avoid. But, based on the games I see people in Las Vegas playing, it’s definitely worth a recap:
Blackjack pays 6:5. Don’t do it. Ever. As the saying goes, “Friends don’t let friends play 6:5 blackjack.”
Continuous shufflers. The dealer scoops up the cards and just feeds them back into a machine that keeps shuffling them. The starting odds are lower. And you will never count cards or even get a sense of when the deck is rich in 10s and aces — the key to winning.
8-Deck Games. These tables are crowded because the table minimum is lower. And it’s lower because you will lose more. You start with lower odds and even counting cards doesn’t give you much of an edge.
Bikini dealers. Just go to a strip show if this is what you want. Or, better yet, sit by the pool, buy a beer and check out the action. But at the blackjack table, the bikinied dealers are there to lure you in, distract you and hide bad rules.
Play any single deck game with 3:2 blackjack. There aren’t many left (The El Cortez has a great game) but seek them out. If the other rules are good, your starting odds are nearly even with the house.
Double deck games. Most good double deck games have a table minimum of $25 making it out of reach for the low roller. But in the morning, and at some off-strip casinos, you can find some $10 double-deck games. But before you sit down, verify the blackjack playout and ask if you can double after split.
Six-deck games with good rules. Some six-deck games are going to 6:5 blackjack payouts so be sure what the rules are. And if the game offers surrender, take it on 16 against a dealer’s 10. It will save you money.
Looking for more edges?
I’m the kind of guy who carefully chooses a table in a restaurant. It’s kind of a feng shui thing for me. Choosing a good blackjack table is similar.
Here are a few other intangibles I look for:
Set your expectations. If you play good basic strategy, and choose a good game, you are almost playing even with the house. But the longer you play, the more you will lose. There will be hot streaks along the way. So consider leaving on a high note and enjoying a trip to the cage for a nice payout.
Pick a good dealer. I once sat down at a double-deck game and the beefy dealer growled, “Now we’ll see what you’re made of.” Not a good start. I like a relaxed, friendly dealer that roots for me and doesn’t deal the cards like firing bullets from a machine gun. I find I win more from some dealers. Be alert to how you feel at the table and if you don’t like the vibe, pick up your chips and leave.
Playing alone. I count cards so playing alone gives me an advantage. And I never have to worry about some jackass accusing me of taking the dealer’s bust card. If you don’t count cards, playing with more people slows the action and slows your losses (and gets you more free drinks!). Also, more time at the table, gives you more comps — at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Play in the morning, party at night. In the morning, table minimums are lower so you can play better games for less. The tables aren’t crowded and you will probably feel more alert and make better playing decisions.
Easy on the free drinks. You’ve just had two free vodka tonics and the dealer lays two 9s in front of you and gives himself an 8. Looking at the cards through a pleasant fog of alcohol you try to remember if basic strategy says to split or stand. Making the wrong choice could cost you more than the two free drinks you just got. (Answer: split the 9s.)
Look for good vibes. Some tables are like a big happy family. Others are like a bar at closing time with fights ready to break out. When things turn ugly, leave your chips at the table and hit the bathroom.
Have Fun But Be Smart
A little blackjack knowledge can take you a long way. Even learning some of basic strategy will get you 80 percent of the way to maximizing your advantage. You can stretch your bankroll and avoid the black fog that sets in after a big loss. Hey, it’s Vegas. Have fun, but don’t leave your brain at the door.